Standards of Living, Order, and Prestige: Public Facilities in Early Fifteenth-Century Lviv (Lemberg)

Standards of Living, Order, and Prestige:  Public Facilities in Early Fifteenth-Century Lviv (Lemberg)

By Rostyslav Paranko

Medium Aevum Quotidianum n.42 (2000)

Introduction: This contribution is intended as a case study of urban material culture in the late Middle Ages. The particular aspect to be investigated – city-owned public facilities – is worth of attention for several reasons.

Of these, the most important is the fact that public facilities constitute one of the most prominent indicators of the level of development, everyday needs, and living conditions in late medieval urban society:

“Die historische Umwelt, Alltag and Fest des spatmittelalterlichen Stadtbewohners, Gesundheit, Daseinvorsorge and Bildungsvermittlung wurden in entscheidender Weise vom Volumen and der Intensitat offentlicher Bauanstrengungen bestimmt.” (The historical environment, everyday life and special days of the late medieval city-dwellers, as well as their health, means of existence, and the transfer of knowledge were decisively determined by the intensity and volume of public building activity.)

Although we completely agree with this remark by Gerhard Fouquet, it is nevertheless necessary to note that in the present essay we shall consider “public facilities” in a somewhat wider sense. Not only relevant building activities (although they will receive most of the attention), but also other factors connected to satisfying various areas of public need, will be taken into account.

Another reason for studying urban public facilities, and especially those controlled by town governments, is the possibility of touching upon the issue of administration of the town’s finances. On the one hand, public facilities could represent a source of income. On the other hand, their construction, maintenance, and functioning always demanded certain expenses. In some cases these costs were extremely high, and provide a good illustration of the methods used by medieval town governments to mobilize substantial funds.

In our study of urban public facilities in Lviv (Lemberg), we intend to proceed as follows. We shall present and interpret the available data on the historical development of different public facilities. We will consider then the measures taken by the town government to provide for their construction, maintenance, and functioning, and finally identify their purposes and the role they played in the life of the town. The discussion of the purposes and the role of different groups of facilities will be continued and further amplified by placing them within the context of their relative importance to the town government. This will be done mostly through a comparison of the expenditures incurred and (where applicable) of the incomes and other benefits derived by the town government in connection with this or that facility. Knowledge of income and costs should help us form conclusions concerning the level of development in administration and financing of the public facilities achieved by Lviv at the beginning of the fifteenth century.

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